My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Snow Shall Not Stop the Egg Tendors

Saturday, May 16

Following the milking of the eggs and milt from grayling yesterday, the fish guys set up this year's nursery early this morning.  It is at Elk Springs where we have the purest water and consists of two sets of 5 linked 5 gallon buckets, connected with piping so the spring water can wash over the eggs and give them maximum oxygen.

Now someone has to visit every day and remove the dead eggs, which appear as little white dots. If this is not done, a fungus will start to grow on the dead eggs and, eventually get rampant enough to kill off the living eggs.

So for about three weeks, Dick, and sometimes I will be doing this job.

Today we woke to completely unexpected snow. The only concession Dick made to the weather, was to change to a 4-wheel drive truck. We headed out a little early, because we were supposed to meet the fish guys.  But they had been working since a little after 6:00 A. M. and were just leaving as we arrived. They were sure Dick knew what to do, since he had performed this task last year.

A few minutes later we were at the end of the road and the beginning of the hiking trail. We have to walk for just a few minutes to reach the fish hatchery.

Volunteer Dick, ready to leave

But I made him take a picture of me first

View at the end of the road

Dick trudging through about 5 inches of snow - note HE is in waders

"You aren't wearing boots, are you?"  "No but I have on 2 pairs of wool socks,
and long Johns and fleece - I'll be fin
e. "

Dick pipetting out the dead eggs

The remaining healthy eggs

And I was doing the same - this was the worst bucket - about 130 dead eggs on day one -
rest had less than 20

See the dead white egg in my pipette?

Second time crossing - water was only half- way to my knees BUT
 over the top of my waterproof hiking boots

On the way home we saw two ravens sitting on top of one of my bluebird boxes.  I told Dick to not bother stopping for a picture because there was no way I'd get a properly developed picture.  Then, as they flew off, I saw the lid was off the box and yelled, "STOP".  I jumped out of the truck and cautiously went through the ditch and up to the box.  I looked inside and saw only a few pieces of grass.  THEN I looked down and saw an entire, empty nest on the ground. When I got home, I looked up the data for that nest and found there had been six eggs in it.  And, since many of the females remain on the nest when I open the box, even the mom might have been eaten by those ravens.

Postscript, May 28

Box 13 E, the box from which the Ravens ate the eggs, has a mother bluebird incubating 2 eggs .

And the Tree Sparrows won the house wars. Here is what I saw on my survey.

Tree Swallow in nest box

And she has it almost finished with feathers - no eggs yet, though

May 30
I'm just back from tending the eggs.  So many of them died and the fungus got so bad, we have started checking on them twice a day. We have had fry in them for a few days and tonight most of the buckets have fry.  We have three buckets that were started late, because some of the fish weren't ready to release their eggs and the fish guys kept them a few more days.  So our fish tending is almost done for the year. But they will be monitored throughout the summer as they swim down towards Swan Lake and into it.

And last night, Dick went fishing after we tended the eggs.  I was going to but realized I'd left my camera back at the hatchery.   So I used most of my fishing time up retrieving it.  But I did get a lovely sunset along the edge of rain clouds.

Sunset from Culver Lake

May 31
The buckets are now mostly full of fry and no eggs.  Here is a picture I took this morning, after the blog came out.  The fry are about a half an  inch in this picture.  Younger fry are only about a quarter of an inch long.

Grayling fry that are several days old

Friday, May 29, 2015

A Visit to Antelope Island

When I changed my plans to camp for three days near Moab, I ended up with a little time on Sunday morning to go visit Antelope Island, the largest island in the Great Salt Lake. It is across a long causeway that separates two bays. It took me about an hour to get there because I was fascinated with the pastel colors of the sea and also kept getting distracted by the wildlife.

The day was mostly cloudy but I loved the colors of the sea in that light

The only pair of mallard ducks I saw

The colors changed with the light

There were several hundred eared grebes  - but too far away for a good picture of them

When I first glimpsed this, I thought they were trying to ride a live bison. 

Red-winged black birds were singing

Barn swallows had just arrived and were looking for places to build their nests

A few tree swallows were also hanging out

A view from the island road

The invasive saltcedar (Tamarix sp.) was present and blooming

And invasive mustard was getting a foothold in the hills

View from one of the trailheads - I went there looking for Chuckar

There are about 600 bison on the island - I always love the new calves

I could have watched the play of clouds, light, and water all day

I would have loved to try floating in the sea but, alas, the day was way too cold. And I had to leave around 2:00 in order to make it to my Montana home before dark so didn't get to take any of the hikes. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

How to Milk a Fish

Friday, May 16

Yes, I said "milk a fish".  The fish guys have been spending the last few days electroshocking fish to get lots of gravid grayling females as well as lots of males. (Gravid just means full of eggs.)  Friday was to be the day they planned to milk the fish for eggs and milt (sperm) and fertilize the eggs.  Some of these eggs would be put in special little pens over  gravel  with different amounts of silt added,  to see if the amount of silt in a stream is a factor in successful egg hatching. The rest of the eggs will be put in our little fish hatchery, that is made of 5-gallon buckets. (More on that  in a later blog.)

While Dick and I were transporting a male  fish to Widgeon Lake (last blog topic), our boss, Bill, called us on the radio to tell us it was time to come watch the milking. We hurried back and then spent the next hour or so waiting for the fish guys to come down the stream with their boat that has the electroshocking equipment and bins in which to put the fish they have caught.

Waiting for the show to start

Here they come!
The first thing to happen was to divide the fish into two pens that sat in the water, one of males and one of females.  These were holding their previously caught fish.  Unfortunately, this spring has been unusually warm here and the fish were about a week ahead of schedule. So a lot of the caught fish had already been upstream to lay their eggs and were headed back downstream.

Sorting male and female Arctic grayling into separate pens

Another view of sex separation

WOW! Look at this grayling's awesome fin.

Meanwhile the milking expert guy was setting up his tent and laying out his supplies.  The person in the background is going to tag, and collect  data from each fish.

The fish milker  - he does the milking in the tent to keep the eggs and milt shaded

Fish waiting to be milked

When the milking started the milker, was handed a female fish which he dried off with a towel and then squeezed her from the gills to the vent.

Readying a fish for milking - he dried each one with a towel so he could hold on tightly

The milking in process 

Data was collected on each fish - many were already tagged

This are the eggs from two females and the milt (the white part) from one male
As soon as the milker milked two females and then two males, a little saline was added and the bowl was swirled around for several seconds. Then the fertilized eggs were rinsed with fresh water from the stream and added to a water cooler.  They had to sit still and harden up for an hour before they could be hauled to the fish hatchery or added to the experiment on the effect of silt on eggs.

One of my jobs is to sometimes tend the developing eggs.  We started that project the next day.  You'll have to wait for next Sunday's blog to learn about that.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Moving Day for a Rainbow Trout

Dateline: May 15, 2015

The refuge is bringing back Arctic Grayling. Montana is the only state with a few populations. Red Rock Lakes NWR has one of these populations and is dedicated to bringing this species back from near extinction. They cooperate with the Montana Fish and Wildlife and various researchers to do this.

To remove non-native competition, they are removing all rainbow trout and brook trout, leaving Red Rock Creek and Elk Creek with only grayling and suckermouths.  In the early spring, researchers set up upstream and downstream traps to catch and tag grayling and to record current data on recaught grayling. (See blog I wrote last year.)  Most of the trout end up in a food bank but 100 males got to go live in Widgeon Pond where they can provide sport for fisherman. The fish guys report to Dick, another volunteer,  that he has fish to transport, and he goes and moves them.

Dick wanted to learn more about the birds here before his birding friends come visit. So he and I did several chores together. I took him birding, and paused a few minutes to clean the bathrooms at the Upper Campground, we stopped to fix a lid on a bluebird box that had blown off, before we collected a rainbow trout from a pen on Red Rock Creek and took it to Widgeon Pond.

I thought you might like to come along on our trip to move the fish.

Dick removing the fish from the pen in Red Rock Creek

And moving him to...

A bin to which he has  just added creek water

Dick hauled him to the van and loaded him up and we were on our way to Widgeon Lake, a few miles further down the road. When we got there, we had to switch over to bird watching for a few minutes before continuing the move. 

An immature bald eagle was sitting on the gate - photo by Dick

And an early-arriving western grebe was swimming nearby

Dick hauls the bin down to lake's edge

Captures the fish...

Makes him pose for a portrait....

Then releases him

Then we raced back to watch the milking of the fish.  Stayed tuned. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

My Hike to Mesa Arch

The Island in the Sky portion of Canyonlands National Park is less than thirty miles from Arches National Park.  Most of the natural arches are found in Arches, but Canyonlands has a few arches also.  One of them is Mesa Arch which frames a beautiful view and is supposed to be spectacular at sunrise, when the sun lights the underside of the arch and makes it a bright orange.

I didn't get there until nearly midday, but I enjoyed both the hike and the arch anyway.  It is only a half mile round trip to visit the arch so it did have lots of people on it, always a negative for me. And it made it almost impossible to get a decent shot through the arch since everyone needed to have their picture taken just where I needed to stand. But this was the only time the park felt crowded - the rest of the time I was either by myself or with less than ten people. So this is definitely a trail you should hike very early or late. There will always be a small group of people waiting for the sun to light the "ceiling" of the arch, even when the sun rises at 5:00 A.M.

This was across the road from the parking lot

This vetch was very common but made a lovely composition along the trail

These rocks almost looked like piles of cookie dough to me

Another beautiful feature seen from the trail

A trail view of a rock formation I took from several different locations. 

Some large lubines made a beautiful color combination with the orange soil

Different layers of rock are colored differently

Mesa Arch

The view through Mesa Arch - not the best time of the day for pictures

This tree spoke to me and I took several perspectives of it

This structure was on the way to Mesa Arch but I climbed after I got there
and found a better perspective of it

Structures seen on the way back

The day kept getting more cloudy and I was afraid the predicted rain would soon come

A clearer part of the sky let me get this lovely picture

Soon I was at the last set of steps before the parking lot

Then I went back to my campsite and finished packing.  This is Horsethief Camp, a BLM campsite with 57 sites.  I got one of the last three sites when I got there at 3:00 P. M. on Thursday.  This is one of the few cheap places to stay - $15 a night or $7.50 per night with a senior pass - and is less than 30 minutes from Canyonlands, Arches, and Dead Horse Point State Park plus other hiking and biking trails, so it is very popular.

My camp

I went to the library in Moab for a while and edited pictures and looked at e-mail and Facebook before heading out, STILL without rain.  But within the hour I got into showers and one little mixed rain and snow shower.  I also had to ride behind a snowplow for a while, although it was not yet clearing the road. But I did enjoy a shower and a real comfortable bed in a motel just south of Salt Lake City.  And I had time the next morning to visit Antelope Island State Park in Salt Lake before arriving at Red Rock Lakes NWR.   I'll tell you about that next blog.  

Since I'm getting further and further ahead on adventures, I thought I'd throw in couple of extra blogs over the next few weeks and try to get closer to catching up. I photographed twin yearling moose today and a badger yesterday as well as MANY pictures of birds, and the scenery. 

I also added my Facebook page, since I often post pictures that really don't fit into blogs there. See it to the right of the blog.